By Rami al-Khattib and Avery Edelman

IDLIB: Uninspected food products are putting residents at risk in opposition-held northern Syria where no authority is designated to monitor the food industry.

The lack of official inspections for food items in Idlib, a province located in northwest Syria, means that factory workers have been left to decide for themselves what standards should exist and whether to abide by them.

Without universal standards, residents cannot be sure that the products they purchase are safe to consume.

Dairy products are made at a factory in Idlib province. Photo courtesy of SMART News Agency.

Hussam Khalil, who lives in the southern Idlib countryside, told a Syrian Voice reporter that he recently purchased a locally produced processed cheese product which turned out to be rotten.

“The item was well packaged and the expiration date was valid, but [once opened] it was discolored and emitted an odor. It was not suitable for human consumption.”

Khalil brought his problem to a number of authorities in the area, among them the health directorate and local councils.

“I couldn’t find any authority to submit the complaint to,” he said.

Instead, the officials he spoke to claimed that food inspection was outside of their jurisdiction and capabilities.

With no assurance that the issue he faced would be addressed, Khalil decided not to purchase that specific cheese product again.

The potential for similar problems, however, remains.

“There are no authorities inspecting food production”

According to factory owners in Idlib, the food industry in the province is currently reliant on self-inspection in the absence of specialized laboratories, quality control committees and a competent authority in charge of licensing new facilities.

Ali Hababa, owner of a facility that produces dairy products, told the Syrian Voice that “there are no authorities inspecting food production processes and there are no health standards that facility owners must comply with.”

Dairy products are made at a factory in Idlib province. Photo courtesy of SMART News Agency.

Yaser Arafat, another facility owner, confirmed that “[food] inspection in the liberated areas is the responsibility of the facility’s owner.”

“I started working in 2015 and established [my own] health standards related to production methods, cleanliness and preservative selection,” he said. “But this is not enough. We need an authority to oversee our work.”

He added that there are no official trademarks being used to ensure local items are not altered or mislabeled.

Ismail Adnani, president of Idlib’s chamber of commerce and industry, also admitted that “there is enormous chaos in the food production field” and said that only imported goods are being monitored.

Health directorate inspects drugs, but not food

The medical sector in opposition-controlled Idlib suffered from a similar lack of inspection on drugs that were brought into the area illegally.

That issue was addressed, however, by the establishment of a drug inspection department at the province’s health directorate in April 2016. The department now monitors drug imports, oversees laboratories and inspects pharmacies and warehouses.

The Syrian Voice asked Dr. Ala’a Ahmado, manager of the drug inspection department, why a similar department has not been established for food products.

Ahmado explained that inspection of food products requires food specialists and specialized laboratories that the directorate is currently unable to provide.

Dairy products are made at a factory in Idlib province. Photo courtesy of SMART News Agency.

Abdul Majid Abdo, a member of the Council of Idlib Governorate’s executive office, added that “food inspections are not part of the Idlib council’s jurisdiction” and that those processes “fall on the shoulders of the interim government.”

Ahmado nonetheless said that the health directorate is “addressing all complaints received, the latest of which related to the distribution of rotten cheese from a relief organization.”

According to Ahmado, the rotten product was analyzed and then destroyed after it was determined that it was not suitable for consumption.

Adnani, of the Idlib Chamber of Commerce, also said that in Idilb city there are some inspections on “a small scale,” which are conducted by the municipal police and the health department in the case of “significant violations.”

In the Idlib countryside, however, Adnani said inspections are “non-existent.”

“Today’s children will pay the price”

Without the proper inspection mechanisms available in Idlib, it is difficult to determine whether the lack of food inspections has already caused harm.

However, Dr. Mohannad Khalil, an internal medicine specialist in Idlib, told the Syrian Voice that recent food poisoning cases he saw could have been transmitted by dairy products, “raising doubts and reflecting the need for oversight on production.”

According to Khalil, a danger is not only posed by factories producing dairy-products, but also any other factories that might be using preservatives of any kind.

“The use of preservatives in ways that do not conform with standards can be carcinogenic, posing a great danger in the longer term,” he said.

 “Today’s children will [one day] pay the price for negligence in food inspection,” he warned.

Original Arabic article found here.